Coquille, Oregon: Small Town Government Set To Self Destruct

By Sheriff Mike Cook
for Sierra Times


Small town politics and the danger that comes with it will be my subject this week. I live in a small town of around 4,000 people. We have a city council, a Mayor, and all the rest that goes with running a city like Coquille, Oregon.
Now for the problem. It's the water and sewer system. You see, like all small towns in Oregon the money is getting real tight. So the only area the City Council and Mayor have to play with is the cost of water and sewer services. So like most small towns they have a City Manager. He tells them that a State Agency, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has found a few violations in the sewer system and that the city must build a new sewer plant to fix the problem, as the old plant can't be updated, or at least it's not worth updating. Also, if the city doesn't build a new sewer plant, then the DEQ will come in and build one and it will cost three times as much money. The City Manager then tells the council that the only way to pay for this project is to raise the water and sewer rates. The council then votes to do just that and when the people get their next water and sewer bills, the people are justifiably very angry.

Many people have started to ask for a recall of the council and Mayor. In this small area the word spreads fast. Everywhere you go in town people are talking about this subject. Most are very upset. The business people are hit the hardest with the highest rates. Some closed their doors and moved out of town. Others raised their prices to cover the increase in costs for operating their business. Then someone in city government called the Secretary of State, Bill Bradbury, asking if the recall action is being done by a political action committee. Bradbury then calls the leader of the recall action in Coquille and asks him if he has filed as a political action committee, tells him he must do so and that it will cost him $250.00. This is certainly a direct threat from our government. The very next morning this person is so stressed because of this threat that he suffers a heart attack and ends up in intensive care in the hospital. He was simply doing his civic duty! Now there are many more upset people in town who are willing to continue on with the recall.

The sad thing is that when someone asked the councilor about the recall he laughed and said it wouldn't happen saying, "It will all go away and be forgotten soon." So they believe they can intimidate people and/ or that the voters don't care or won't get involved.

Many in the city have said they are afraid to get involved because of this intimidation. Others have said they don't care and will get involved. Now an attorney has been contacted and a meeting will be scheduled so that a citizen's committee can be formed to do this recall. So it looks like this is going to happen. (As soon as they raise the extortion money for the state, of course.)

The water and sewer bill at my home went up $30.00 this month. We used 9 cons of water. We are told that a Con is 1,000 Gallons of water. The first Con cost's $14.50 according to he local paper and then it's $2.70 for every Con after that. The sewer rate will be $4.65 for every Con of water you use. Simple math indicates we are paying $7.35 for every 1,000 gallons of water we use. We are also told there are two more rate increases planned by the city.

Now a check with a friend who owns a local business shows the following: In December of 1995 his bill indicated that he used 49 cons that month and the bill was $124.50. We figured he was paying $1.64 per con for water and $.89 per con for sewer. His bill this month was for 47 cons with a total of $681.30. That means he is paying $5.80 a con for water and $8.69 a con for sewer. That's a 600% increase in about seven years.

Using this information, and getting a print out of all the businesses in Coquille and some simple math, I found that the city is taking in about $39,000.00 a month from business's alone. They are probably taking in three times that amount from residences. That's a lot of money.

The funny thing is that no one is asking the questions. First of all the DEQ was contacted by the recall committee, and they said that the sewer plant could be fixed with a few new parts. However, they believed that the city wanted to build the "Cadillac" of all systems which the DEQ didn't think was needed. This sounds a lot different from what the city manager told the council. Did anyone in the council check his story and call the DEQ?

What does it cost to operate the water and sewer system in Coquille? If it costs less than they have been taking in, where has that money gone? Perhaps to pay themselves the big raises they all took this last year. Why haven't they dealt with this problem in the last twelve years, since one must assume they knew about it? Why does this all happen right after they asked the voters for a big tax levy that was turned down?

I think it is time for the people of Coquille, Oregon to take back their city government and get involved. We are going to see this town dry up and blow away if they don't. No one can afford to live in this city at these prices. No one will buy your property, so it's value will be nothing. A bag of ice will have to cost $5.00 instead of $1.00. But this may not be a problem because there won't be any place in town to buy ice. The businesses will be moving away.


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